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N9548A accident description

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Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Aspen, CO
39.191098°N, 106.817539°W

Tail number N9548A
Accident date 23 Oct 1999
Aircraft type Cessna 172R
Additional details: None

NTSB description


On October 23, 1999, at 1248 mountain daylight time, a Cessna 172R, N9548A, impacted rising terrain during climb in the vicinity of Independence Pass near Aspen, Colorado. The private pilot in command received fatal injuries and the two private pilot passengers received serious injuries. The aircraft sustained substantial damage. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for this personal flight, which departed Aspen approximately 20 minutes before the accident. The flight was operating under Title 14 CFR Part 91, and a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan was filed.

The aircraft fueled at Aspen and according to ground witnesses, after takeoff it was observed to fly a right downwind and proceed directly up the valley leading from Aspen to Independence Pass. The rear seat passenger verified this.

A witness who saw the accident related that the aircraft was flying slowly, in a climb, with a high nose attitude as it impacted terrain. The rear seat passenger was interviewed and stated they realized they were not going to clear the pass and discussed attempting to turn around. According to the rear seat passenger, they were flying up the center of the valley, and the pilot was flying at an airspeed just above stall. He did not recall the pilot putting flaps down and had a vague recollection of the impact sequence. He said that after the accident, hikers assisted them within "a couple" of minutes. He also related that the aircraft was functioning normally when the accident occurred.

The accident site was at 11,948 feet above mean sea level (msl) in a valley about 1.5 miles from the top of the pass. Density altitude at the accident site was calculated to be 14,100 feet msl. Independence Pass is 12,095 feet msl, and approximately 19 miles form the Aspen airport, elevation 7,815 feet. The accident site terrain was rough and rocky.


The pilot received fatal injuries due to impact during the accident. She was in the left front seat. Both passengers received serious injuries. Both passengers were interviewed. The front seat passenger had no recollection of the accident flight, and he was the most seriously injured with spinal cord damage. The rear seat passenger had partial recollection of the accident fight.


The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating in airplane single engine land. She did not hold an instrument rating. Her certificate was issued on February 5, 1998, and she had accumulated approximately 260 hours of flight time, approximately 22 hours of which was introductory flight while she was attending the United States Air Force Academy several years previous. Most of her flight experience was in the accident aircraft in which she was part owner.

The pilot held a third class medical certificate with no waivers or limitations. The certificate was issued on April 28, 1997.

The pilot had received mountain-flying training from one of her partners in the aircraft who was a certified flight instructor. The training was done in the accident aircraft.

The front seat passenger held a private pilot certificate dated July 29, 1998, with a rating in airplane single engine land. He did not possess an instrument rating. He held a third class medical certificate with no waivers or limitations issued December 17, 1997. His application for the medical certificate provided information that he had a total of 100 hours flight time and 10 hours in the six months before the exam date. His flight time was primarily in Cessna 172 type aircraft.

The rear seat passenger held a private pilot certificate dated May 19, 1998, with a rating in airplane single engine land. He did not possess an instrument rating. He held a third class medical certificate with no waivers or limitations issued November 2, 1996. He stated that he had a total of 85 hours of flight experience and had flown about 4 hours in the preceding 6 months. His flight experience was primarily in Cessna 172 type aircraft.


The aircraft was a Cessna 172R, serial number 17280509, manufactured in 1998 and was issued a normal category standard airworthiness certificate on June 1, 1998. The aircraft was certificated under Federal Aviation Administration Type Certificate number 3A12. It was IFR equipped and certified and was powered by a Textron Lycoming IO-360-L2A fuel injected engine which was capable of producing 160 brake horsepower at 2,400 rpm on a standard day at sea level.

The maximum takeoff weight was 2,450 pounds and the standard empty weight 1,600 pounds. Fuel capacity was 56 gallons of 100LL aviation type gasoline. The useful load was 857 pounds, and the service ceiling was 13,500 feet at a standard temperature of 14 degrees Fahrenheit (F).


The closest weather reporting station was Aspen, the point of departure, and 19 miles west of the accident site. The weather observation taken 5 minutes after the accident occurred provided information that visual meteorological conditions prevailed and the temperature was 62 degrees F, 20 degrees above standard. The wind was from 350 degrees at 7 knots.


The accident site was above timberline on a 19-degree upslope to the north and 7 degrees side slope to the east. The aircraft impacted the ground on a northerly heading in a wings level attitude with 20 degrees of flaps deployed. Witness marks provided evidence that the aircraft slid approximately 22 feet following initial impact.

The engine remained attached and was displaced downward at the firewall. The propeller remained attached at the flange.

The aircraft cabin remained intact. The cabin floor was crushed upward which bent the front seat attach rails. The rails remained attached to the floor and the seats to the rails. The 3-point seat belt/shoulder harnesses were intact and remained attached to their anchor points. The inertia reels were functional. There was a pillow in the left front seat that was used by the pilot due to her short stature. The pillow was used behind her back.

The empennage was partially separated with a downward bend at the fuselage attach point. The right horizontal stabilizer was bent upward at the tip and the left horizontal stabilizer was undamaged. The vertical stabilizer was undamaged and control continuity to the tail section was established.

The wings remained attached. The right wing tip was bent upward and the left wing was partially separated at the trailing edge attach point to the fuselage and bent downward. Control continuity through the wings was established. The flaps were measured at 20 degrees deployment. This was verified by the cockpit flap selector position.


Records and interviews provided information that the aircraft was topped of with fuel at the Aspen airport, giving a fuel weight of 336 pounds.

According to tests/records, the combined occupant weight was 450 pounds, and the luggage weight was 12 pounds.

Cessna records provided information that the aircraft empty weight was 1,651 pounds. Thus, the takeoff weight at Aspen was 2,449 pounds, or 1 pound below the maximum certificated gross weight for takeoff.

According to the performance section of the Pilot's Operating Handbook for the aircraft, on a standard day, 26 miles would be required for the aircraft to climb from the Aspen airport to the altitude of Independence Pass. At 20 degrees above standard, the climb distance would be 28.6 miles. The climb performance data is based on the use of proper leaning procedures, climb speeds and flaps up.

The occupant restraint system was checked and operated normally with no failures or malfunctions found during the examination. All occupants were wearing their restraint devices when the accident occurred.


The aircraft was verbally released to Beegles Aircraft Services, Greeley, Colorado, on March 15, 2000. No parts were retained.

(c) 2009-2018 Lee C. Baker / Crosswind Software, LLC. For informational purposes only.